Elastik Loop Library
60s A GoGo comes as an Elastik loop library. Elastik (a rather simpler affair than Ueberschall's Melodyne-based Liquid front-end) provides a way of adjusting both tempo and, if required, the overall pitch of the loop to meet the needs of the project. It can run as a stand-alone application or as a plug-in in VST, RTAS (Mac and PC) or AU (Mac only) formats. I tested v184.108.40.206 of the VST plug-in on a PC, using Cubase 4 as a host.
The Elastik window is split into three main sections. The left is dominated by the main controls, which include dialogues for loading and saving presets from the sample sound bank. In this particular library, the majority of the presets consist of several loops that form a small construction kit, or loops that form the individual elements of a complete drum loop. A range of controls is provided that allows the tempo and pitch of the loop to be adjusted, and tempo to be set to match the host. The user also has a choice between applying a simple filter or envelope to a loop, or beat-slicing it. The filter and amplitude envelope are pretty modest by modern standards but the beat-slicing works well enough if you want to roll your own drum patterns.
The right-hand side of the window is dominated by a rather unconventional waveform display. This shows the waveform of the currently selected loop in a circular format (presumably to keep things compact). Aside from the fact that it looks interesting, you can also use this to drag the loop start point (S) and end point (E) if you only wish to use part of a loop.
The bottom of the window is dominated by two sections of virtual keyboard. By default these span keys C1 to B3 (the lower section) and C4 to B6 (the upper section). When a preset is loaded, each loop is allocated to a key on the lower portion of this keyboard, and these keys can be used to trigger the loops from a MIDI keyboard. If the user wants to create their own keyboard layout, loops can be dragged and dropped into the upper section. This also applies to the beat-slicing function, where the slices of a loop are assigned to a series of consecutive keys. Such user-defined layouts can be saved and recalled. Interestingly, given that one common purpose of using a dedicated front-end for sample libraries is copyright protection, loops can be exported from Elastik as WAV files for use within other audio applications. In summary, Elastik is simple enough to use and, apart from one or two quirky moments, it seemed to behave itself reasonably well during testing with Cubase 4.
Front-end aside, the sample content of this library is an absolute hoot. As the title and packaging suggest, this is a retro collection of loops with a very distinctive '60s flavour. The loops are split into some 14 song-based construction kits, although most of the songs are themselves split across two presets, forming an 'A' and 'B' song section that could be pieced together in a complete arrangement. Furthermore, the loops are presented as 'demosongs' (premixed and probably best just for auditioning purposes), 'mixed' and 'dry' versions. The dry versions are fairly self-explanatory, but the mixed versions are the same loops with some '60s-style processing applied (particularly vintage reverb). Each construction kit consists of a decent number of loops, often with three or four different drum loops, a bass loop or two and then an assortment of other instruments, such as guitars, cheesy organs, flutes, pianos, brass and vocals. Both the sounds and the playing capture the '60s vibe very well.
However, the thing that struck me most was the compositions themselves. Listening to the demo songs for each construction kit was like entering some kind of time warp. Images of films set in the swinging '60s, minis (cars and skirts) racing around London, or set in (then) exotic European locations such as Rome or Paris and starring Julie Christie or David Hemmings were conjured up by almost every kit. Equally, if you wanted to pastiche a Pearl & Dean cinema advert there are certainly one or two pieces here that would form a very good basis for doing so. Everything about the production of these kits is utterly convincing of the period, but the vocals and organ sounds are particularly evocative.
60s A GoGo is likely to be aiming at something of a niche market and, at just under £70, this library does not perhaps scream 'bargain!'. Elastik itself is functional, but some users might feel that learning yet another front-end just to use a loop library is in danger of becoming a chore. It would be really nice to see library producers develop an alternative copy-protection system (dongle-based perhaps?) that allowed users to access loops via their own choice of loop manipulation tool, although at least you do have the option of exporting individual loops from Elastik, should you wish. All that said, if you need some genuinely cheesy '60s flower-power pop, 60s A GoGo pushes all the right buttons, and it is worth auditioning — if only for the nostalgia trip it can most certainly induce. John Walden
Kontakt 2 & EXS24
The E-bow is probably one of the best-kept secrets of the world of guitar effects. Essentially, it's a small, hand-held, electronic bow that operates on one string at a time, picking up energy from the string and feeding it back onto the string via a magnetic transducer. This enables the string to be kept vibrating indefinitely. The timbre of the sound changes as you move the device along the string, and on electric guitar the pickups interact with the sound, often causing it to ride up onto a harmonic. The latest E-bows have a slide switch to determine whether the fundamental note or the harmonic is excited.
The acoustic guitar, a Santa Cruz Dreadnought Model D, was sampled in 11 groups over the note range from E1 to G4. There are three note-off samples (the level of which can be adjusted) per note. Each note is sampled twice and alternated on low and high harmonic E-bow settings for both vibrato and non-vibrato samples. The electric samples were created using a Gibson SG 61 Re-issue, fitted with humbucking pickups. A similar sampling regime was used to create 10 mono groups ranging from C1 to C-sharp 5.
The acoustic samples were mic'd in stereo and the electric guitar samples recorded in mono (as you'd expect for an electric guitar). The electric guitar was DI'd clean to allow the user to modify the samples using amp simulator plug-ins or other treatments.
As mentioned earlier, the guitars were sampled using both harmonic switch settings on the E-Bow. The mod wheel is mapped to bring in the upper harmonic setting, which goes some way to emulating the way a real E-bow changes its harmonic content as you move it up and down the string. The vibrato samples are selected using a key switch on keys B5 and C6, which is useful but can make life awkward if you're using a short controller keyboard. Also, you can't bring in vibrato part-way through a note using this method of control, though the natural vibrato is well played and suitably subtle.
Sample sets are arranged for solo (monophonic) and polyphonic performance, and they generally sound pretty good. There is a useful system for alternating samples when the same note is played twice in succession, which avoids obvious repeats, and the Kontakt 2 version includes some additional functionality, such as mixable levels for the key-off samples, and a better mono mode.
As an E-bow user, I found that some potentially interesting sounds didn't feature. Samples cannot accurately emulate the way in which note transitions occur during an E-bow phrase played on a single string, as the legato effects are quite distinctive. Also, though the sound of the E-bow moving along the string can be approximated by fading to the harmonic setting, it isn't the real thing. Finally, while there are some doubled parts, there are no interesting stacked E-bow layers (which can sound great done in octaves or fourths).
That said, this sample set is very attractively priced, and if you're not a guitarist, or you are but you haven't used an E-bow, it will certainly open the door to an interesting and unique range of new sounds and textures. Paul White
£45 including VAT
Acid, Apple loops, REX 2, Reason Refill, Kontakt, EXS24, Halion, Stylus RMX
Zero-G's Soundclash comes with the subtitle 'The very best of nu-electro dance' and aims to provide a fusion of dance-music styles, combining house with elements of electronica and various live instruments. The collection has been produced by Sharooz Raoofi, and a wide range of software and sampler formats is supported on the single DVD-ROM. I auditioned the Acid ised WAV files (using Acid Pro 6), which comprise about 1GB of samples, spread over nearly 2000 files.
Given the amount of content, the samples are split into a number of sensible folders. The 'Construction Kits' and 'Combi Loop' folders provide a good starting point. The former contains 17 full construction kits, generally based upon a dozen or more loops, while the latter are almost 'mini-construction kits' that contain various drum, percussion and bass loops that could easily form a rhythmic bed to which other material can be added. There is some excellent material in both folders. For example the 'NYC Rockers' kit combines dance with pop-rock, and the 'Bleep Hop' kit wouldn't sound out of place next to something from Madonna's 'Confessions On A Dance Floor' album. Other material reminded me of the Scissor Sisters and earlier Madonna. There's also a plentiful supply of straight-ahead electro-dance that would go down well in any club context.
Aside from the construction kits, other folders contain drum hits, drum loops, synth hits, synths loops, some FX and atmosphere sounds, and a small number of processed (mainly via vocoder) vocal phrases. The 500 individual drum hits cover snares, kick, toms, cymbals and percussion instruments, of both the electronic and the acoustic variety. There is plenty of good stuff here to build your own loops, and if you own one of the sampler formats that is supported, suitable programmes are included to make use of them to build your own loops. The 500 drum loops are also split into 'mini-construction kits', rather like the 'Combi Loops' but without the bass loops. Variations here include loops minus the kick or snare drum (which is great in a dance context). The various synth samples are equally good, and there is plenty of material to get your teeth into if you are a dance producer.
All the samples are provided in a stereo, 16-bit, 44.1kHz format, and while some might prefer 24-bit audio, to my ears, at least, the quality is uniformly good throughout. I'd certainly have no reservations about using these samples in a commercial context. Audio quality aside, there is also an abundance of musically interesting material here that ought to get the creative process off to a good start. Zero-G generally seem to have the 'value for money' box well ticked and this release is no exception. For budding clubland producers, Soundclash is well worth auditioning. John Walden